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Translating modern Japanese literary prose : a theoretical approach Woodburn, Alexander Gordon


This paper investigates language and translation theories as they pertain to the English translation of modern Japanese literary prose. The four chapters deal, respectively, with a general discussion of language theory; a discussion of some important theoretical issues in translation; a case study, consisting of a detailed discussion of some of the problems and issues encountered in translating a specific work of Japanese fiction; and, finally, the translation itself. Chapter I examines some influential language theories, including the concept of signification, Bakhtin's theory of heteroglossia, and Whorf's theories on how languages influence our conceptualization of reality. Language is presented as dynamic, shifting, contextual, and self-referential, expressive and at the same time creative of who we are and how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. Chapter II examines several translation issues, including translation metaphorics, the subjectivity of the translator, the nature of fidelity in translation, translating cultural subtext and supertext, and structural differences between Japanese and English that affect translation. Translation is an interpretive art: the translated text acts as a 'meta-text' to the original, with the translator's unique, subjective interpretation intrinsic to its production. Although translation is driven by a desire for sameness, difference is the more fundamental aspect, and the translator's art lies in using these differences to illumine and complement the original. Chapter III studies the translation of a specific literary work, "Uji" (Maggot) by Fujisawa Shu. General structural problems discussed include indeterminacy and delayed determinacy of meariing, problems of tense/aspect, kanji overdetermination, and issues relating to cultural subtext and supertext. In addition, several difficult passages are analyzed to illustrate the interpretive and creative process of rendering Japanese into fluid English. Chapter IV is the translation itself, a grotesque but artfully wrought description of a maggot’s journey over the raped and murdered corpse of a young woman. The delicacy of its prose combined with the sensitive nature of its content demand that the translation be carried out with considerable tact, so as not to disturb the precarious balance between poetry and abomination that the original so successfully achieves.

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